The Miami Marlins are embarking on another effort in the 2014 season on their road back to relevance, and it starts in just five days when Marlins pitchers and catchers report to Roger Dean Stadium on February 16. One of the players who will help the franchise on that mission is reliever Mike Dunn, who will play a prominent bullpen role in 2014. Last week, Dunn, the Fox Sports Florida Girls, and a number of other athletes spent three days at Fort Bragg in North Carolina on another cause: visiting the men and women of our military as part of the Spring Training for the Troops event. I got a chance to talk to Mike a little bit about the event and the upcoming 2014 season.
Michael Jong: How did you get involved with the Spring Training for Troops event?
Mike Dunn: During the offseason, Fox approached a couple of us to go on this trip, and a couple of days later I got an email confirmation from Fox Sports saying that they selected me to come on this trip and it's been an honor and a privilege every minute of the trip so far.
Michael Jong: How long have you guys been over there?
Mike Dunn: We flew in two nights ago [last Tuesday] and the first night was to meet and greet everybody on the trip and get to know everybody. All day yesterday and all day today, and we leave tomorrow afternoon [Friday].
MJ: What are the sort of things you guys have been doing on the trip?
MD: Basically, we woke up with physical activities yesterday and this morning, at 5:30 in the morning. Yesterday we did physical activity and we ran a mile and did various exercises before and after we ran the mile. And then we went and had breakfast with them. After that, we then continued to go around and take pictures with the group around the "Iron Mike" statue that they have here at Fort Bragg. Then we went and sat down with a colonel and a general and they told us about the history of Fort Bragg as far as the population that have been here and how big it is, it crosses four counties, it's one of the largest institutions in America. They basically broke down everything that's in this base.
Photo Credit: Fox Sports
After that, we met their soldiers' kids at junior high and talked with them and did a Q&A. Then we had a clinic with the kids for about an hour and a half, ran a little baseball clinic.
We had medical simulation training, which was the highlight of yesterday. We went out with the medics and they gave us M3 carbine rifles that shot paintballs. and we had medics with us. They told us we would encounter enemy subjects at some point down this trail and we had to defend our medics and get our medics to the down soldiers on the ground. That was a lot of fun, basically played a lot of paintball. We all talked about it afterwards and said "Man, I'd love to do that again now that I know what to expect." But we started talking and we said that these guys don't know what they're walking into any given day, so they try to train for every possible scenario that they can think of so that if it were to happen in real life, they're already trained for it.
Photo Credit: Fox Sports
Just to get a chance to sit down at breakfast and lunch with these guys, and having one-on-one conversations and getting their backstory has been amazing. To hear why they're here and listening to everything that they say, you can tell it's coming from the heart, that they believe in everything they're saying and that they're doing it for us. It's really touching that they are there and that dedicated to defending the United States and defending you and me and our families.
Today, same story, got up at 5:30 and did some physical training with the 16th MP group. Today was more of a Crossfit-style training for an hour, non-stop, an hour straight. These guys are in unbelievable shape, I definitely stopped way more than the people around me. After that, we had breakfast with the soldiers, and we went and did a 34-foot tower jump, basically a simulation of paratroopers here. We hooked up to a parachute and jump off this 34-foot tower that has the zipline that catches you. It's the closest thing that they have to simulate actually jumping out of an airplane.
- First Sgt. Jonas Woodruff, noncommissioned officer in charge of the 82nd Airborne Division’s Advanced Airborne School, and Mike Dunn, a pitcher for Major League Baseball's Miami Marlins, stand inside the school's 34-foot tower at Fort Bragg, N.C., Feb. 6. Dunn was on post as part of FOX Sports' Spring Training with the Troops, an event that brought multiple current and former MLB players and members of the FOX Sports Girls to Fort Bragg to meet and train with soldiers. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. William Reinier, 2/82 PAO)
The highlight of today was when we went to the gun range with the Green Berets and got to shoot pistols, machine guns, fully automatics, semiautomatics, sniper rifles. I'm a big gun guy myself, an outdoorsman, so to shoot the types of guns they have and talk to these guys and pick their brains was amazing. After we got to play and have our fun time shooting, they put us in full body armor and let us observe them go through their live fire training events, which was live rounds, full-speed action, breaking into the building, searching for an enemy subject. We were standing above them and got to see the whole thing unfold. That was pretty awesome, to talk to those guys and hear their stories. They were the badasses of the badasses, and they're training to be better at what they do, which I can't even believe is really possible. They're all still Green Berets and they're all complete badasses. You definitely did not backtalk anyone!
- Mike Dunn, a pitcher for Major League Baseball's Miami Marlins, jumps from the 34-foot tower at the 82nd Airborne Division’s Advanced Airborne School at Fort Bragg, N.C., Feb. 6. Dunn was on post as part of FOX Sports' Spring Training with the Troops with multiple current and former MLB players and members of the FOX Sports Girls. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. William Reinier, 2/82 PAO)
We then had a wiffle ball event and drafted a bunch of soldiers last night and had an event today, 6-innings of wiffle ball. We got to get to know the guys and have a lot of fun.
MJ: What do you think you guys bring to the event by going to Fort Bragg and spending a few days with the troops?
MD: Just sitting there talking to these guys, they're all thanking us for coming and appreciating us for spending time with them when really it's the reverse effect. The honor to be here and spend time with these guys and thank them for what they do. They thank us because we appreciate them for what they do. One of the guys said that "this made my week, made my month, and possibly made my year, being able to sit down and talk to you." He said it was an unforgettable experience, and I'm thinking it's an unforgettable experience for me to listen to this guy.
MJ: You don't expect it from your end, for them to be so interested in seeing an athlete. But you guys serve as, well, like there's heroes on both sides for each other.
MD: Yeah, and they tell us when they're out there, we don't follow baseball that much, but it gets us through the nights. We come back and watch the games and it clears our minds. Just to be able to say that I'm a part of being able to help them is amazing. The passion these guys have to protect me and you and our families is unbelievable.
MJ: How much are you excited for this season?
MD: I can't wait to get going. I've kind of already "reported" to Jupiter before I flew out here. I threw a bullpen out there already, and I actually to talk to [catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia] and got to meet him and get to know him a little better before I got out here. I'm really excited about the guys we signed this year, bringing in a good group of guys to add to the talent we have. I think it's going to be an exciting year and we need to come together as a team and anything can happen!
MJ: You said you already talked to Salty. What's your first impression of him?
MD: You know, he's just like any other baseball player. We shot the crap a bit, gave each other a quick background on each other, we talked about what my strengths and weaknesses were. He caught my bullpen, and I told him this is probably the last time he volunteers to catch my bullpen. It went well, and for a first-time meeting, we went pretty in-depth on a lot of stuff. I feel like we'll be a little ahead of the curve.
Just to get to see him behind the plate, the way he receives, because every catcher looks a little bit different, the target is presented a little differently. It looked clean back there, even if I made a bad pitch, he made me feel like I threw it good because of the way he caught it. He seems like a great guy, and I can't wait to get to know him more and have him as my teammate.
MJ: You mentioned some of the moves the Marlins made this year. What do you think about the Marlins' chances this year?
MD: I'm not going to say we're going to win a certain number of games or win more than this or lose less than that, but I'm going to tell you that this team will be very competitive. We showed this past year, you can't just walk in and expect to beat us, we're going to give you a game. We're going to play from the first inning to the ninth, and anything can happen in baseball. We're a better team this year from the additions that we made, but we need to improve on some things from last year but also take the pluses from last year and build off of those.
MJ: What do you think your role in the bullpen will be this season?
MD: To be honest, I don't think it should really change from last year. Basically, I was pitching the eighth inning last year, and I'm going to go in fighting for the eighth inning role. I should be able to come in there, and I'm not saying it's going to be given to me, but I'm going to fight to prove I can be the eighth inning guy by myself.
MJ: What have you been working on this offseason to try and improve your game?
MD: It's all around. Last year was one of the best years I've ever had, so to try and continue, I wrote some things down, things that I felt I needed to adjust. Mechanically, I'm trying to get a little better, get a little more control, what can help me do that. My offspeed pitches, a little bit better.
There's was a stretch last year where I lost my slider. For about a week and a half and two-week span, where my slider wasn't where it normally is, and it got me in a lot of trouble. This offseason, I put a lot of focus on how I got my slider back, so that if I do lose it, I only lose it for about a day or two and not a week. I'm really focused on improving my third pitch, my curveball. Trying to improve my accuracy and my control of it, so I can use it more often.
MJ: In aprticular, you mentioned your control. You dropped your walks from last year, that's a difference I noticed from a numbers standpoint. Did you do anything in particular to try and improve on that regard?
MD: You know, it's continuing with what I've been doing in the past. I've changed some things mechanically heading into last year and it was keeping that feel, making sure I felt comfortable again with those mechanics, and trusting myself that it worked last year. I'm not satisfied with last year, and I want to keep improving on that number and have even less walks, so it's definitely one of my goals for this season.
I want to thank Mike Dunn for talking to me and I wish him the best of luck in the 2014 season. Thanks to Fox Sports Florida for allowing the opportunity to talk to Mike as well.
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